Behind Bars and Addicted: Benefits of Treatment

2 min read · 3 sections

In the new non-fiction book The Second Chance Club, all seven of the parolees profiled, who revolve in and out of lock up in New Orleans, suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD). Is that the norm, the prevalence of drug addiction in the U.S. jail and prison population? The percentage is difficult to pinpoint. But it’s substantial.

By the numbers, about 65% struggled with SUD at the time of their arrest, according to research. But there’s more to this. An additional 20% do not fit the exact SUD criteria, but nonetheless abused drugs or alcohol. That comes to 85% with a substance use affliction – a huge chunk of the total of those caught up in the criminal justice system.

Comprehensive treatment has proved effective for all individuals contending with substance use and overuse. But as a subset, do inmates have access to drug rehab while in prison? That’s the main question; there are other lines of inquiry pertaining to this issue as well.person in prison behind bars needs drug rehab

Treating Prisoners for Substance Abuse or Not?

Like everything in the substance use/abuse treatment realm, there are challenges. That includes treating inmates. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) explains. “To be effective for this population, treatment must begin in prison and be sustained after release through participation in community treatment programs.” Care on an ongoing basis helps former prisoners avoid relapsing and committing crimes. Those two outcomes are big pluses and potential lifesavers. They turn lives around.

But now here’s a dose of reality about treatment in these circles. How many inmates receive professional help in addressing their substance use problems? “A small percentage” is the phrase NIH uses, as in “only a small percentage of those who need treatment while behind bars actually receive it.” And it adds: “often the treatment provided is inadequate.”

Additionally, medication-assisted treatment is uncommon in many criminal justice agencies. How “uncommon” is MAT in this realm? A study cited by NIH puts the percentage in single digits for prisoners with opioid addiction. “Only 5% of people with opioid use disorder in jail and prison settings receive medication treatment.”  Why? “A survey of prison medical directors suggested that most are not aware of the benefits of using medications.”

Best Treatment Plan for those Behind Bars

Earlier in this post, “comprehensive treatment” was the term used for an effective way forward to treat all people in the throes of substance addiction. What would alcohol and drug rehab in prison look like? Can these programs really offer comprehensive care to inmates?

NIDA lays it out as follows:

  • A mix of behavioral therapies – cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) alters a person’s use of substances, expectations as well as controls urges and stress; contingency management therapy offers incentives to users to change, e.g., cash and vouchers, as rewards for attaining goals.
  • Rx medications – similar to the therapies outlined, there are choices available under supervised care, e.g., methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, suboxone.
  • Wraparound services – to ensure gains made as inmates continue after release, individuals should receive assistance with finding housing and employment.
  • Education and back-up – in preparing to return to the community, those in substance abuse treatment should be briefed, e.g., about triggers and fragility of overdosing after not using drugs/alcohol as well as about naloxone, an opioid overdose medication.

Benefits of Attending Drug Rehab in Prison

Science comes into play here. Studies over the past 30 years have identified the advantages of drug rehab in prison to those who need it. Inmates who participate in such regimens derive a range of benefits. Let’s start with the first-line ones. These include better health and lowered risk for further substance use as well as for relapsing, overdosing and dying.

Then there are others. Completing treatment not only puts inmates on the path to recovery, but also improves their behavior while they are behind bars. That, in turn, may raise the odds for a commuted sentence. The benefits grow when they exit the prison doors. They extend to society at large. They take many forms, such as boosting the potential for job placement and productivity, reuniting families and cutting down on recidivism or repeated offenses.

Some states have initiated programs. Massachusetts is one. California is another. But the title about the initiative summarizes the situation: “Thousands of California Inmates Waiting for Access to Addiction Treatment.”inmate hopes to receive drug rehab in prison

If you or a loved one has returned to the community from jail or prison and is battling substance use disorder, help is available. American Addiction Centers offers a range of programs in locations throughout the country. Contact us today.

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